Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

A view from our farm stay POP site

Buddhist Retreat - Colville Bay

Journey to Port Jackson

Journey to Port Jackson

Port Jackson

The camp site near Port Jackson

Our return journey

East coast; top of the Coromandel Peninsula

The double decker viaduct on the Driving Creek Railway

Part of the train track

A classy tunnel

Our destination; the Eyefull Tower

Coromandel Town from the Eyefull tower

Our train

Kauri Trees

A tree hugger

Waiau Falls

The water powered clock in the Waiau Water Park

Caught in the act

A disrespectful sheep

Sylvia’s Comments

When we awoke this morning we put the breakfast television on to get the weather reports and discovered that in our area the weather was going to be mixed. Today we intend to drive to the top of the peninsula and need to check out wind and rain before we set off. It looked to be favourable for us so we decided to go. We needed a push out of our overnight park and then we were on our way.

Just a short drive along the road was the Mahamudra Centre, a Buddhist retreat that has a stupa, meditation hall and simple lodgings for travellers. We had a look around and found it a very peaceful place set in some lovely scenery. It reminded me very much of Samye Ling at Eskdalemuir. I spoke to two of the volunteers working in the garden and said I thought it was in a very lovely place. They said it was nice but a very wet place, something else it has in common with Samye Ling. After having a look at the meditation hall and we then continued on our journey.

We were now driving on a gravel road and heading north. The road went inland and up over a hill before dropping back down to sea level and returned to the coast. The journey reminded me of the road we took up to French Pass way back in March, apart from the fact we were driving along side the coast and not high up on a ridge. How ever it was not long before we were climbing up and twisting around the hills once more. The views were magnificent and each turn on the road brought another stunning view. We reached Port Jackson and intended to continue on to Fletcher Bay, the end of the road, but we came across a ford. With all the rain that has been about recently there was quite a lot of water in it and we were not sure how deep it was, so decided this was the end of the road for us. Fletcher Bay is the start of the Coromandel Coastal Walk, a scenic three hour walk down to Stony Bay. On a good day that must be a nice walk.

We returned to Port Jackson and had lunch before starting our journey back. This was a lovely spot and all that was here was quite a large DOC campsite and one farm. Our journey back down the road brought a different perspective to the stunning views. Just before we reached Colville we branched off on the road across country to drive up the other side of the peninsula to Port Charles and on to Stony Bay. Another hilly road with views into the bush area and we only got costal views towards the end. As we drove into Port Charles we passed a sign saying that Captain Cook called in here on 18th November 1769 on his look around NZ. Port Charles was more populated, as there were a lot of holiday batches and a luxury retreat hotel. From here we continued on to Stony Bay only to find the road was not suitable for large vehicles so Jeff decided to look at the boat ramp instead. Having set off down the hill the road got narrower and overgrown, we wondered if we would be able to turn around so we decided to back up, quite a feat, but we eventually did it.

Our journey back to Coromandel Town was down the east coast of the peninsula and once again we got some lovely views of several little bays and passed some really lovely houses. Just after Kennedy Bay we left the coast and headed across country climbing over a really big hill range before dropping down to the town. We found a camp site close by for the night as tomorrow morning we hope to take a trip on the Driving Creek Railway. At the campsite we were told it had rained solidly here for three hours, we had experienced a lovely sunny day with just a few drops of rain on a couple of occasions.

Thursday morning we left the campsite and drove the short distance to the Driving Creek Railway. It was raining very heavily when we arrived and the staff at the ticket office suggested we wear one of the large yellow rain covers they provided to keep customers dry. So we donned one and the rain stopped and did not re-start until later in the day. So that was a good insurance policy.

Driving Creek gets its name from the early pioneering days of kauri logging, when water suddenly released from the timber dams in the gullies would ‘drive’ the logs down to the estuaries where they could be shipped to the saw mills. Kauri was a very strong wood which was very much favoured by the British Navy for masts and spurs on their ships. Driving Creek is also famous as it was the first place in NZ where gold was found, but there was not a lot of it here. So its days as a gold town were short lived.

The Driving Creek Railway and Pottery is the vision and drive of one man, Barry Brickell. He moved here from Auckland in 1961, and after a short spell as a teacher he became a full time potter, building a studio and setting about planting native plants around it. This was considered very radical at the time. In 1973 he purchased 24 hectares of hilly bush country and built a narrow gage railway which winds its way up the hillside for 2 mile covering steep grades with a zig-zag system. It has large curves, a couple of tunnels, some spectacular viaducts and a circular loop that has one viaduct crossing above another. All the small trains are built on site.

As you travel up the track some of the native bush and trees are labelled for you to identify and amongst them are some pottery statues. At the top of the hill, 567 feet above sea level, we reached the ‘Eyeful Tower’, a lookout modelled on Beacon Rock Lighthouse in Auckland Harbour. From here we got some good views over the area. Our train driver told us that many functions are held up here including weddings. We had a bit of a laugh wondering if in the wedding pictures the guests are wearing yellow ponchos.

Our journey back down was uneventful and we had a look around the pottery shop before leaving. Barry has set 2 hectares of land beside the pottery into the Driving Creek Wildlife Sanctuary Trust. A lake and wetlands area was completed in 1999 and a vermin proof fence is to be installed by the end of this year, making it the first fully protected sanctuary on the Coromandel Peninsula. It is hoped that a variety of endangered native species will be introduced for future visitors to see.

From here we drove into Coromandel Town and had a walk around and did some shopping. It was here we discovered we had had a big win on the lottery, no not the $16,000,000 first prize, which was not won, merely $24, so we used some of that to have another go at the big one. This side of the peninsula sits on the Firth of Thames, named by Captain Cook as it reminded him of the River Thames back home. After lunch we drove over the 309 road, which is the shorter road between Coromandel and Whitianga covering 16 miles. That does not sound much but it is another hilly, narrow gravel road with some blind bends and sheer drops to one side. The first part travels up along side the Waiau River and through farmland, scrub and pine forest, once over the summit (1,000 feet) it then travels alongside the Matiakirau River and down a steep hill. Once at the end we turned around and went back over it again, why? We were on the wrong side of the peninsula and it was either that or take the longer route around the top. We also wanted to do the few sightseeing activities on the 309 we had missed coming over.

Our first stop was at the Kauri Grove to do the short walk to see a small grove of these magnificent trees. The Coromandel Peninsula was once covered by these lovely trees but from1830 the exploitation went on relentlessly, taking out most of these trees. We were told by the train driver that this small group was worth visiting, and it was. The oldest of the trees is 600 years and has a girth of 20 foot, but when we get up into Northlands we will see more of these trees and were told that one is over 2,000 years old. Our next stop was at the Waiau Waterfall and finally at the Waiau Waterworks. We bought a coffee and drank it as we wandered around this park.

This sculpture park features all working machinery powered in some way by water. There is a clock which is totally powered by water and some of the interactive machines gave us great fun as we got involved in all the activities. We were glad there were no children in the park so we could have a good time on all the rides. The owner of the park told us that he is in the process of forming a small animal park and as word has got around the area people are bringing him recruits for his park. So far he has Priscilla, the pig, a number of geese and a sheep. We met the geese and sheep but Priscilla was not to be seen.

It was now getting late and the Sculpture Park was also a POP site and we did toy with the idea of staying here the night, and having a longer drive tomorrow. In the end we decided to continue down the road to the next camp site at Tapu. As we drove down the road the rain started again and we arrived at a wet camp site, and with thoughts of not getting bogged in we managed to find a non muddy spot, right by the sea. Once again we slept with the rain banging down on our roof and the van rocking in the wind.

Friday morning and it was still raining but we got off the site with no bother and set off for Thames. This small town is the eastern gateway to the Coromandel Peninsula and was once a thriving gold and timber town. We stopped for fuel and continued on our way stopping to buy cheese and a coffee at the local cheese factory at Matatoki. We were now on our way back to Hamilton for the rally to be held at the race course. Criss crossing over the country roads we eventually arrived at our destination having only taken one wrong turning. Not a bad job by the navigator.

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